Millstone pupils develop project to help stop spread of spotted lanternfly

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MILLSTONE – Pupils at the Millstone Township Elementary School are embarking on a multi-year project to help prevent the spread of an invasive insect that poses a threat to trees and crops.

Calling themselves “Stopping the Spread of the Spotted Lanternfly,” the elementary school pupils intend to combat Lycorma deliculata, an invasive insect species commonly referred to as the spotted lanternfly.

The team is comprised of Kyra Ahuja, Ryan Bailey, Samay Bajaj, Nate Benjamin, Max Glantzberg, Elliana Kamel, Bella Maltese, Elizabeth Mooney, Matthew Rosta and Caleb Zachariah.

Beth Topinka, Jennifer Modula and Jo-Ann Trifiro serve as advisers for the team.

Because the “Stopping the Spread of the Spotted Lanterfly” team members are expected to spend two years on their project, they will not be taking part in Future Problem Solving competitions until 2020.

According to the pupils, the spotted lanternfly is a plant hopper that is native to China, India and Vietnam. Although it has two pairs of wings, it primarily moves by jumping instead of flying.

The spotted lanternfly was first recorded in the United States in 2014 after it was found in Pennsylvania. The insect has only recently been spotted in New Jersey, first being seen in western areas of the state in 2018.

While the spotted lanternfly has not been found in Millstone Township or any other municipality in Monmouth County, the pupils are concerned about its presence in New Jersey in part because the insect has been found in Mercer County, which borders Millstone Township.

The spotted lanternfly has also been observed in Hunterdon and Warren counties, which border Mercer County, leading the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to establish a quarantine in those three counties.

A quarantine has been proposed in the southwestern counties of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem and Somerset.

The pupils explained that the spotted lanternfly feeds off of and destroys more than 70 types of hosts, including grapes, tree fruit, pines and hardwood trees. The preferred food source for adult spotted lanterflies is the Tree of Heaven, which the pupils said is a fast-growing, deciduous, exotic invasive tree native to China.

The Tree of Heaven can reach a height of more than 80 feet and is able to grow in a variety of soil and site conditions, including Perrineville Lake Park in Millstone Township, according to the pupils. The youngsters are advising residents to get rid of the trees to help prevent the spread of the spotted lanternfly.

“The ‘Stopping the Spread of the Spotted Lanternfly’ team seeks to educate the Millstone community about this invasive insect which can wreak havoc on trees and food crops, with potentially devastating impacts on New Jersey’s economy,” Topinka said.

“Spotted lanternflies are spreading eastward from Pennsylvania and they have been detected in several counties adjacent to Monmouth County.

“As with any invasive species, early detection and rapid response are crucial,” she continued. “Eliminating a major food source of the spotted lanternfly, the Tree of Heaven, will be a major emphasis as the team moves forward with their multi-year project.”

To share information about the spotted lanternfly and to spread awareness about the issue, the pupils appeared at the Monmouth County School Garden Conference on April 5 and attended a Millstone Township Environmental Commission meeting on May 13.

The pupils informed the Environmental Commission that the spotted lanternfly will travel on vehicles and camping equipment, causing people to inadvertently bring the insect back to their home. The insect may also be brought to a home if the individual purchases a real Christmas tree, for example.

The pupils shared images of what spotted lanternflies look like as eggs, nymphs and adults and said that if egg masses are spotted, individuals should scrape them off, double bag and throw them away, or place the eggs into alcohol, bleach or hand sanitizer to kill them.

Individuals may collect specimens of any life state and turn them in to the Department of Agriculture lab for verification. If doing so, individuals should take a picture of the insect at any life stage and submit it to SLF-plantindustry$ag.nj.gov.

Individuals who are unable to take a specimen or a photograph may call the New Jersey spotted lanterfly hotline 1-833-223-2840 and leave a message detailing the location of the sighting/address. Sightings may also be reported to [email protected]